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The Art of Balance

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Christopher Hitchens RIP and Vaclav Havel too.

'Hitch' as he liked to be known inspired adoration and loathing in seemingly equal measure.  Simon Hoggart in yesterdays Guardian addressed this Janus like aspect of the man.

He was, to put it courteously, a trifle devious with money. When the late Alan Watkins left the New Statesman he helped raise £98 for a leaving present, a fortune in those days. Alan had asked for a copy of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, and was surprised to be given the cheapest edition. Hitchens cheerfully admitted that he had put the rest in his Abbey National account. He liked to organise big lunches and dinners; a hilarious one in Washington was to decide the "Osrics", named after the fawning courtier in Hamlet, which went to the most obsequious political journalist in that town – a closely fought honour, as you might guess. Hitch's technique was to say, "look, you're all busy, why don't you go back to work and leave a blank cheque with me …" I actually fell for that twice.
He loved to attack anything that other people revered. Mother Theresa and Michael Foot enraged him, or so he claimed. He called himself a "contrarian", taking the opposite view to the received wisdom, but I sometimes felt he was more of a "turnip" – a victim of "terrified you're not in the papers" syndrome. He adored publicity – admiration or vilification, it didn't matter. Yet his rejection of Islamofascism and support for Dubya must have taken courage, when you are the darling of the American left, such as it is.
But he could write. Heavens, he could write. He could drink three times as much as anyone else at lunch (four large scotches, followed by a whole bottle of red was typical) then when mere mortals would be in urgent need of a nap, he could produce a dazzling comparison between PG Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler, or a tremendous exegesis of Orwell's later works, or a ferocious assault on Churchill as a war leader. His book God Is Not Great is an astonishing example of sustained and persuasive rhetoric (I suspect his lack of faith was a great source of comfort in the final illness).'

In the same paper on Friday we saw:
Salman Rushdie took to Twitter to mourn the passing of a "beloved friend", writing "A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops." Richard Dawkins said he was "one of the greatest orators of all time", and called him "a polymath, a wit ... and a valiant fighter against all tyrants including imaginary supernatural ones." The former prime minister Tony Blair, who Hitchens bested in a debate over religion at the end of last year, said he was "fearless in the pursuit of truth" and praised his "passion, commitment and brilliance".

Sadly I am unable to forgive any who supported the Bush junta in their despicable Iraqi adventure and consider all involved in the Neo-Liberal imperialist antics of that period to have been guilty by association.  I dream one day we may see Bush and Blair in the dock to answer for their crimes.  That truly would be a great day for Human Rights!  How the dictators and their torturers would shudder in their cells!

Also this mechanistic materialism so energetically espoused by Hitchens, Dawkins, Crick, Diamond et al.  This sense of matter as inertly subject to the whim of evolutionary development.  The haughty dismissal of alternative medicine and all that is spiritual as infantilism.   What a sad bunch of born again atheists they really are.  He was a bit of a toff.  A poor Balliol toff with his donkey jacket in the 60's liberating the poor workers.  A metropolitan toff.  A name dropper.  But a bit of a dude as well.

But Hitch was a colourful and slightly enchanting monster, a great drinking companion and an excellent writer, and I guess in a world of letters that comes to seem ever more bland he'll be sorely missed.
Christopher Hitchens born 13 April 1949; died 15 December 2011

Breaking news today 18th December 2011-   Václav Havel, the dissident playwright who led the Czechoslovakian "velvet revolution" and was one of the fathers of the east European pro-democracy movement that led to the fall of the Berlin wall, has died aged 75.
Reports quoted his assistant, Sabina Dancecova, as saying Havel died at his weekend house on Sunday morning, and the news was announced on Czech television during an interview with the current prime minister, Petr Necas.
Necas called Havel "the symbol of 1989" and said he did "a tremendous job for this country".
Havel's state funeral is likely to draw a crowd of leaders, artists and intellectuals from around the world. Havel was a renowned playwright and essayist who, after the crushing of the Prague spring in 1968, was drawn increasingly into the political struggle against the Czechoslovakian communist dictatorship, which he called Absurdistan. His involvement in the Charter 77 movement for freedom of speech won him admiration around the world.
His commitment to non-violent resistance helped ensure the velvet revolution was bloodless. It also help ensured that the "velvet divorce" three years later, when the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, was equally peaceful.
Havel opposed the split and stepped down from his position as president in 1992, rather than oversee the process. However, he stood for the presidency of the Czech Republic early the following year and won. It was a non-executive position but Havel brought to it both moral authority and prestige on the world stage. He stayed in the position, despite bouts of ill health including lung cancer, until 2003.
His role in the east European revolutions of 1989 was second only to Lech Walesa's in Poland. As the twin inspirations of the pro-democracy movement, they were strikingly contrasting figures: Walesa a flamboyant, brash, working-class union agitator; Havel a soft-spoken intellectual from a well-to-do family, who was a reluctant politician.
He was one of a generation who came to political consciousness in the 1960s. Rock stars such as Frank Zappa were among his heroes and late in life he continued to sign his name with a small heart-shaped flourish.
His motto was: "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate."

I recently interviewed a Czech woman and asked her if Havel was truly as great as he's made out, 'oh yes' she replied ' he was the greatest of men.'


A Sonnet for Whitbarrow Moor.


Soft is the wind on Whitbarrow this day,
As if it’s breath just blesses as it flows,
Follows sheep-tracks to ancient groves
Where the wild orchids and the juniper grows.
That’s where I burned old wounds in fire
And laid me down in arms of sculpted oaks.
As after that midge-ridden solstice rise
At Swindale Stones; it seemed the rising sun
Had pierced me with some wild, transforming touch.
I had to stop my ears up to the screaming
Of the grass, and by the fallen larch,
I sensed the terror of the Over-Soul:
A single, vast, and acute sense of pain.
In spectral mist howling out Thelema!


Ghost Story In Fragmento

It is only now, some twenty years after the event that I can bring myself to record the terrible events of that grim November night. Recently I found myself stranded at Southampton station having missed my last connection to London. I booked into a rather shabby hotel nearby fully intending to depart for London first thing in the morning. I could not have suspected that a late night conversation over a single malt would alter my plans so dramatically.
The owner of the hotel called Three Roods was a rather rough looking chap called Henry Diggins. I could see from his sunken eyes and the burst blood vessels in his face that he had too much of a liking for the drink. He was not the kind of man with whom I would normally engage in any deep conversation. So when he casually mentioned that he had been a pupil at Dauntless College in the nearby village of Romsey I was amazed and it was with genuine surprise that I explained that I too had been a boarder there and we exchanged memories like the survivors of some grisly accident bound together by shared trauma.
Diggins, it transpired was some years younger than I and when he remarked that he was the pupil who had stayed over on the Christmas holidays at the time of the Great Fire I was greatly intrigued to hear his story and he only too keen for the telling of it.

New motto of the Day: Grace Under Pressure

Grace is my favourite word. Grace under pressure is my motto and despite my clumsiness. Only the other day...It doesn’t matter.
There have been some very strange things happening in this neck of the woods of late. Me? I’m a watcher. I see what goes on-it is after all my purpose. It is what I have been trained for. To the untrained eye it might look like ordinary people going about their business but I know better. I have, as I say been trained to see beneath the surface of things.
Dr Chaudhuri is not a watcher. She thinks she is but clearly she is not. In my experience psychiatrists rarely are in fact watchers though clearly they are intelligent people. Very intelligent people or they wouldn’t be psychiatrists though there can be too much emphasis on that cleverness. The intelligence of a watcher is different. We must have endless supplies of patience.

Ramblings from old Notebooks Pt 1V

Dreams ideas and strange thingies

30/12/00: A fragment after watching Luc Besson’s Jean of Arc and lit like the film-dark and brooding. There is a barman-tall, swarthy insolent and arrogant looking. Long hair and a dirty unshaven face. He is completely naked and sports a huge erection and is strutting up and down behind the bar.

15/7/01: The Social Worker-first chapter done////
Reiko & Shinji/ The Questors/ Sea Kayak trip/ Barcelona trip/ Cephalonia trip/

20/9/01: Reading The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy on the train I am struck repeatedly by images of profound horror. The German officer sucking the eyeballs of the revolutionary out of their sockets and leaving them to dangle on their cords and the retelling of it with the blind man saying how he could see his chin and body from another angle which gradually dimmed as the cords and eyeballs shrunk like grapes.

A phrase from Prospect Magazine OCT 2000 “The void of Pre-Birth.” From essay The Eggshell by Paul Broks

Wherever was it that I heard that phrase? I just cannot remember. What was it now? The distribution of sadness as opposed to the distribution of blame.

The stigmata of perfectablility- From a documentary on Dusty Springfied-The trait of artists to always wish for everything to be absolutely perfect.

If I create nothing else but am at least declared to have been a good dad then I will consider my life to have been worthwhile. Lover, friend, husband-these are all important but Dad is best of all.

I do not believe in love at first sight. I believe that to be an error that confuses an immediate sexual or magnetic attraction with what arises from the slow casserole of relationship. Anything else is fast food. Now there isn’t even any time to fall in love.

Speed dating? Because they need time to do what exactly?